Case Study 19
Dissemination of Biogas Digester Technology
Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS)
Keywords: China, rural energy, biogas, training, S
Small-scale biogas digesters have been reasonably successful in China and India
for providing clean energy and high quality fertilisers in rural areas. The
Asia-Pacific Region Biogas Research and Training Centre (BRTC), founded primarily
to facilitate diffusion of biogas digester technology, has contributed significantly
to promoting the development of biogas digester technology in developing countries.
This case is a unique example of a South-South technology transfer.
Global methane emissions from livestock manure were estimated to be 20-30 Tg/yr.
Manure management systems that store manure under anaerobic conditions contribute
about 60% to this source. Biogas digesters have a proven record as an environmentally
sound technology and find considerable acceptability in China and India. These
digesters are designed to enhance the anaerobic decomposition of organic material
and to maximise methane production and recovery. Moreover, this technology has
proven to be suitable for temperate as well as tropical climatic conditions.
In addition to reducing methane emissions from livestock manure, anaerobic digesters
are very well suited to meeting rural energy requirements. This technology also
reduces the demand for commercial fertilisers and, thus, helps protect the environment
and improve human health.
The BRTC was established in 1981 in Chengdu, China, to spread the use of the
technology in other countries. BRTC has since been responsible for training
technical engineers in countries from Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. The
parties involved in setting up this centre were the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP), the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Foreign Economic
Relations and Trade in China. The Chinese government was interested in the project
because it provided a good opportunity to publicise biogas digesters in developing
countries at a reasonably low cost. However, one of the major barriers to initiating
this project was the financial resource needed to support trainees from developing
countries. Furthermore, small farmers found it difficult to raise enough financial
resources to cover the initial costs of constructing a biogas digester.
During the first six years of its operation, the centre received financial support
from UNDP. Subsequently, the Chinese government undertook the financial responsibility
for training engineers. Since the time of its inception, the centre has conducted
21 training workshops with over 270 participants from over 71 countries. During
the period 1980 to 1990, this centre assisted the construction of over 70 digesters
in 22 developing countries.
Most participants of the programme acquired the skills to construct, operate
and maintain small-scale biogas digesters in their countries. The centre proved
to be a valuable tool in demonstrating the usefulness of capacity building in
transferring technology. In addition to sequestering methane emissions, the
technology provided clean and convenient ways of energy generation.
Important lessons from this case are:
Technology transfer from one developing country to another works remarkably
Technology transfers among developing countries are limited because most advanced
technologies are developed and owned by industrialised countries.
Greater emphasis on joint development of technology is likely to increase developing
In a technology transfer case between developing countries, financing can become
Hu Ronglu, 1998: Personal communication.
Safley, L.M., M.E. Casada, J.W. Woodbury, and K.F. Roos, 1992: Global Methane
Emissions from Livestock and Poultry Manure. U.S. EPA Report 400/1-91/048, Office
of Air and Radiation, Washington, DC, 68pp.
Zhao, Y., 1990: International exchange on biogas technology during 1980 to 1990.
In China Biogas 1980-1990. Environmental Protection and Energy Department of
Agricultural Ministry of China, Chinese Scientific and Technological Publishing
House. pp. 53-57.
Fang Guoyuan, Deputy Director, Biogas Institute of CAAS, 13, Renminnan Road,
Chengdu 610041, China.